Learning to embrace where God was calling me--even when it was the last thing I wanted to do

photo by manunited 

Two winters ago, I was chaperoning our youth group to a teen conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I remember we were in the auditorium and as the band was playing a song, one line stuck out to me: “Where you lead me, I will follow….Even if I walk alone, Lord, this I choose to do,” As I sang along, the reality of that lyric hit me. And I prayed, God I love you, but please don’t make me go anywhere by myself. Please don’t make me have to do it alone. Please don’t…

Six months later, I was packing my belongings in boxes, preparing to move to a new city, for a new job…by myself. And yet, now, I was now doing it willingly, even enthusiastically. God had changed my heart: He made me excited about this change and impressed upon me, time and time again, that this was what I needed to do. Even though it was scary, he equipped me with all the courage I needed to overcome this fear.

I learned a lot from that experienced, but what I especially learned was how good God is. I think many of us are afraid that God is going to make us do things we don’t want to do--he’s going to call the person who loves small, hometown life and send her off to be a missionary in Africa. Or he’s going to make someone else who loves to dance, stop dancing. This is a grave misunderstanding of who God is. God loves us. He does not delight in making us miserable. And that’s the fear many of us hold in our hearts.

As I learned from my experience, even when God does call you to do that which is completely unnatural to you, he helps you reach the point to where you can embrace it--where you know it’s good for you. God even says that he will give us the desires of our heart. He is good. And anything that he is calling us to is for our own good.  I truly believe that, if we trust him and an idea of what he’s calling us toward, that he will fill in the gap of fear we might have and he’ll make the path straight.

For me, my journey to doing the unthinkable and moving to Michigan by myself was a long road: First I got the idea of finding a job in the Christian publishing world. Then I made a new friend who was talking about moving to Grand Rapids with another friend. Lo and behold, there are three Christian publishers in the little town of Grand Rapids. As it turns out, one of those publishers is the only company who asked to interview me and then give me a job. But around this time, my friend found another opportunity in another city to explore and though I was scared of being on my own, God had given me a heart of courage and a deep sense of peace regarding this decision. I encouraged her to go to Kansas City instead, and suddenly found myself living out the lyrics I had once prayed so adamantly against.

Some of the everyday miracles God has blessed us with lately

I’ve found that it’s important for me to marvel over the incredible, albeit everyday, miracles God has blessed me with. I’ve also found that hearing about other people’s everyday miracles can be quite an encouragement to my own faith, particularly in those times when doubt begins to set in or when I start to grow impatient with my own prayers as God seems nowhere to be found. Hearing testimonies from other people who I actually know, encourages me to press on and continue to wait and hold the cry of Psalm 27 dear: "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD."

So here are just a couple recent examples of how God has answered our prayers, worked through us or provided for us when circumstances looked otherwise:

A critter in the night: Our unwelcome houseguest
We live in an old apartment building from the 1920s. Despite the fact that we're on the second floor, we've occasionally woken up in the middle of the night to a scratching in our bedroom wall. The first time was about 2 months ago, but by banging on the wall whenever the scratching started (I was going for a Pavlovian scare-tactic effect), the critter soon gave up and abandoned its post in our wall. This past week though, we awoke in the middle of the night to a new noise. This scratching wouldn't stop and we could hear it moving in the wall. It went on for two nights, waking us up. I'd bang on the wall to see if that would be another easy answer, but no such luck with this persistent fellow: He just kept on scampering and scratching. Finally, Michael got the bright idea: To pray about it. He prayed for the animal to leave and immediately the noise stopped...and has not come again since. We shouldn't be surprised that when we pray for something, that God would answer us--we should be more surprised when we pray and nothing happens. And yet we were.

Perfect timing for a belated $25 check
Michael and I tithe, but we like to give depending on where needs lie--whether it's to a new cause we've discovered or a friend in need as well as to our church. Last month, Michael wanted to send some money to one of his friends who is interning at a church in California. By the time Michael got around to writing the check, we only had $25 left of our tithe for the month, but he went ahead and wrote the check anyway, hoping it would be helpful even though it wasn't very substantial at all. Within days, we received a phone call from his friend who was freaking out: Evidently one of his bills had been raised by $25 that month and because he was living month-to-month, he had not allotted money to cover the increase. He wasn't sure what to do, but then our check arrived that day--the exact amount he needed. We were afraid it wouldn't really be useful and yet God aligned the timing and amount to provide for exactly what was needed and when it was needed--no more, no less. What beautiful providence.

Filling our cupboards when our grocery budget was spent
Michael and I keep a monthly budget that we still fight and wrestle against to stay within its limits. We had reached every dollar limit for every category and still had a week to go. Our fridge was lacking and our pantry bare, but we really wanted to try to stick to our month-to-month budget and make do with what we did happen to have.  It wasn’t even something I thought to pray about, but just as soon as we were trying to figure out what our next meal might consist of (pasta and veggie burger? peanut butter and jelly sandwich?), we received a $50 Trader Joe’s gift card for Michael as a belated birthday gift. It could not have been more perfect timing for us and we were able to get everything on our shopping list--even a new kind of beer to try, in celebration. Just as God feeds the birds in the air, he keeps our bellies full, too. We are indeed worth more to him than the little birds.

Through all of these, God again and again reminds me that he “already knows all [my] needs and he will give [me] all [I] need from day to day if [I] live for him and make the kingdom of God [my] primary concern.” (Matthew 6:32) I’m still learning (and praying) to make him my primary concern--I would not say that I’ve reached that maturity in my faith yet by any means. Still he remains faithful, even now, as I learn.

P.S. To stay updated, you can have all my future blog posts sent directly to you via email or RSS feed by clicking on those links. (Let me know if they don't work.) Thanks for reading! 

A Book Review: “The Sacred Meal” by Nora Gallagher

One of the things I look forward to most about going to church each Sunday morning is taking communion (also known as the Eucharist). Having not grown up taking it regularly, it’s something I’ve come to appreciate and savor. So when I received a copy of “The Sacred Meal” by Nora Gallagher, I was thrilled and ready to drink up all sorts of theological insights about this practice.

That isn’t necessarily this book.

Instead, this is a book about a woman and her stories about her faith and how various things--including communion--have impacted the way she relates to God and this world. Beautifully written, Gallagher’s memoir-esque personal anecdotes overshadow what I had expected to be the bulk of the book: a deep exploration of the Scriptural underpinnings and traditions for taking communion.

She does share some interesting Eucharistic insights that I earmarked (including how  the tradition got started and what it originally looked like for early Christians). But Gallagher also broadens her view, addressing other areas of faith, such as humility, embracing the poor, or understanding how the divine fits into everyday life. And that’s where the strength of this book lies: In how Gallagher relates her faith--beyond simply taking communion--to the ups and downs of ordinary life.

The many blessings I have to be thankful for this year

original photo by talon.k

Looking over the past year, there is much--very much--for me to be thankful for. Seeing as it is Thanksgiving, it only seems fitting to pause to look back and reminisce over all that has been given to me, all that has painted the story of my life this past year.

I am thankful for...

...making it in Grand Rapids--moving to a new city, knowing one soul and taking on a new job in a position I knew little about.
...meeting incredible people and friends and spiritual mentors during this short season of time in my life
...the grace and strength God gave me while living there, as I learned to appreciate solitude and turn to him when days seemed too hard to handle.

...the long-distance relationship I was able to nurture over this past year and for the dozens of plane tickets that allowed it to flourish.
...Michael's unending grace and forgiveness toward me, as I learned how to cherish another person's heart.
...his commitment to take me as I am, countless imperfections and all, and propose to me with marriage, on a dark Friday night as the rain poured down around us in his driveway.

...being able to plan our wedding in 10 weeks, with detail after detail falling into place to create the wedding I'd always hoped for in a budget that my parents could happily afford inspite of our impossible-seeming timeline. (Many of my prayers during this time revolved around begging God to be my wedding planner to get everything done in time. He truly wears many titles and answers many prayers!)
...the shower of kindness we received from friends and family with wedding gift after wedding gift so that we hardly lack a thing.
...finding a reasonable apartment to live in during our one-month stint in Grand Rapids as newlyweds.

...moving to Atlanta and locating a beautiful apartment to call "home sweet home."
...having an income to support us, even after quitting my full-time job for the move.
...getting to work from home as a freelancer and make up my own schedule, so that I can hang out with Michael while he's home, and work while he's at school or studying. It has been such a great opportunity to start off our marriage this way, rather than rushing past each other on my way here or his way there. We actually get to spend time together.

...living down the street from a lovely, sprawling park perfect for people-watching and spending time in nature on a slow and sunny afternoon.
...finding a new church, only blocks away from our home. It is here where I am learning to appreciate liturgy and search out community.
...learning to become a helpmeet and a homemaker. Even in this season where I have a job and we're not yet starting our family, I'm becoming aware of what my future holds and the virtues and needs that it will require. So I begin to take tiny steps to prepare. One today, one tomorrow. Soon I will be ready for the future when it's time has come.

...my family, the one I was born with and the one I've been given through marriage. As is the case for many newlyweds, times have financially been tight. Whether it's receiving our honeymoon as a gift from an in-law or my cousin offering to fix my persnickity laptop for free or Michael's grandma sending us "in-case-of-emergency" money, we have yet to feel the burden of our situation alone.
...my friends, who are only a phone call or an email (or a Facebook message) away, and always willing to respond to my random queries and make "home" feel a little less far away.
...my husband, who continues to be my very best friend who makes me laugh more than I ever have and always encourages me, even when I come to him with my tail between my legs, apologizing yet again. I've learned that one of my Love Languages must be gifts because nothing gets me as excited as when he brings me an unrequested cup of coffee (just the way I like it) and a dark chocolate candy bar. He knows me all too well :)
...my God, who never gives up on me, never kicks me to the curb, even when I deserve it. Even when I abandon him, he does not abandon me, but takes me back when I take a tiny step back toward his direction. He provides for me even during those times, proving to me again and again that I am his beloved, the apple of his eye, that he is ever good and ever faithful and ever merciful. Time and time again.

For all this and much, much more, I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!

A Bedtime Prayer to Restore Your Soul Tonight

Last year, I picked up a copy of John Eldredge's "Walking With God." If you've ever wondered about things like spiritual warfare, our authority in Christ, the power of prayer and deliverance, this is a great resource, from an author I very much respect.

In it, he shares daily prayers that he recites upon waking up in the morning and before going to bed at night. With both of them, they are declarations to be a servant to Christ alone and find refuge in him and resist any lies or attacks from the devil. I believe spiritual warfare is real and that we can fight it by pursuing God, obeying him and praying against any of the evil one's schemes.

Here is a copy of the bedtime prayer from John Eldredge to consider praying tonight for a little spiritual cleansing before entering never neverland. (He also shares other prayers on his website):

A Bedtime Prayer to Restore Your Soul
My dear Lord Jesus, I come to you now to be restored in you, to be renewed in you, to receive your love and life, to take refuge in you. I honor you as my Sovereign, and I surrender every aspect of my life totally and completely to you. I give you my body, soul and spirit; my heart, mind, and will. I cover myself with your blood, and I ask your Holy Spirit to restore my union with you, renew me in you, and lead me in this time of prayer. [At this point, consider whether there is anything I need to repent of or consecrate to God and present it before him?]

I bring the kingdom of God and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ over my home, my bedroom, my sleeping—all through the hours of this night and the new day. I bring the full work of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout my home tonight—the atmosphere in every room, over every object and furnishing, all media, throughout the ceilings, walls, and floors and all places in them, from the land beneath to the roof above and to the borders of my domain.

And in the authority of Jesus Christ I bring the full work of Jesus between me and all people now—their spirits, souls, and bodies, their sin and warfare. [Here, name anyone that comes to mind.] I command the judgment of the Lord Jesus Christ on every foul power and black art. I bring the cross and the blood of Christ, I bring his resurrection and life, his authority and rule and dominion against every hex, vex, and incantation. Against every spell, all rituals, and all ritual devices, all satanic rituals and satanic ritual devices. Against every vow, dedication, and sacrifice. Against every word, every judgment, and every curse. I send it all to the abyss in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and in his name.

I now bring the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fullness of his work against Satan and his kingdom. I bring the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ against every foul and unclean spirit—every ruler, power, authority, and spiritual force of wickedness [Ephesians 6:12]. I command all foul and unclean spirits bound from my home and from my household, together with all their underlings, backups, and replacements, in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and in his name.

I announce the kingdom of God over my home and my house this night. I summon the angels of the Lord Jesus Christ and ask them to build a shield of protection around me and my home [Hebrews 1:14]. I ask your Spirit to fill my home with your presence and to go forth and raise up prayer and intercession for me this night. All this I pray in the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to his glory. Amen.

A mini-tour of our new home: The built-in cabinets in the office

Michael and I have lived in Apt #10 for over 3 months now. There are still a number of things on my to-do list (namely, add some artistry to our living room and kitchen), but in the meantime, we're mostly settled in our "home sweet home."

In celebration, thought I'd share a little bit about our place, and a couple photos of one of my favorite unexpected gems in our apartment: the built in cabinetry in our office. Evidently, our building is from the 1920s, and this seems to be one of the sole survivors of that time period. I love the extra amount of storage it provides (because otherwise, we only have one non-bedroom closet to hide our stuff).

My desk is set up across from the hutch, so these cabinets stash all my work goodies as well as  office and craft supplies. To mask the mess that my piles of paper can sometimes morph into, I bought a couple rolls of pretty damask-patterned wrapping paper from Michael's and taped them to the insides of the glass doors, which I like because it brings a little panache to the place.

Finally, the 4 paintings displayed on the shelf were a wedding present from my dear friend Mallory who handpainted the canvases for us with my favorite verse: "He makes all things beautiful..." (Ecc. 3:11). What a good friend, huh? And ever-fitting.


Our holiday plans and burgeoning social life

original photo by origamiancy 

Crazy times around these parts, of late. It's been a surprisingly social week for us:

We joined a new small group starting up at our church and attended the first meeting on Tuesday. One of the really cool things about that is that as luck would have it, there are two other newlywed-ish couples (one has been married for 1 year and the other for about 3 years) without kids and two older couples. One of the things they told us that they're most excited about in regards to hosting our small group is pouring into us in regards to our marriages--which is one of the things I was praying about as we moved down here. In one of the pre-marriage books Michael and I read, they emphasized your "honeymoon habits." Essentially the habits we set up at the beginning are going to be the habits that last--for good or bad. So I look forward to getting feedback and advice and insights early on, so that we can avoid as much damage-control as possible and keep this flame-o-love a-burnin.

Wednesday, Michael played music at a Thanksgiving event that a local coffeehouse-ministry was hosting. There was turkey and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and everything. Definitely got me in the mood for next week!

Tonight, one of Michael's friends has started a monthly get-together of different musician friends to come together, share some of their work-in-progress music and just be creative together. As the Mrs., I get to join along and soak in the music. He hosted the first night last month which was a lot of fun. He lives in this old house that looks like a log cabin and so at times it feels like a scene from out of a movie like Garden State or something: everyone crammed into a little room with mismatched furniture, sipping hot cocoa while the musician-of-the-moment is playing guitar. Memories in the making.

Then comes the tidal wave of Thanksgiving. We'll be spending the weekend with Michael's dad, coming back to Atlanta for 2 nights and then driving back to Cincinnati on Tuesday where our schedule is already planned out moment by moment. It's pretty incredible to go from the days when you wake up and ask yourself, "What am I going to do today?" and decide that the agenda is a walk to the park and a homemade latte and then find yourself scheduled like this. After spending the last year or so of my life in a new city, it is taking me some getting used to. But I am enjoying this transition as we turn Atlanta into "home."

Any fun plans for anyone this week/end?

Telling my husband I love him, in three words

photo by helga

There is something to be said for the vulnerability of the words, "I need you." Whether it's to God ("I need you"), to my husband ("I need you") or to my dear friends ("I need you") these words are some of the most powerful  I've found--and also must unspoken.

In marriage, those words can seem scary even though, whether you utter them or not, they are incredibly true. I need Michael. Of course I do! He holds my heart in his hands, everything he does or says affects me. His words and sentiments reverberate in my heart. Of course I need him. Who do I turn to when I'm having a bad day? Who do I tell my fears and my ideas to? Whose opinion matters most to me? I need him and his care and his heart and his strength and his encouragement and his wisdom and his protection. That's what marriage does. Two become one and you need each other. But that doesn't make you "needy."

I remember realizing this--that I need him. And I don't remember the specifics of it, when or where or how, but I told him, I told him that I need him. Even now, if I'm having a down-and-out kind of day and I need a hug or an encouragement, I'll whisper those words to him. "I need you." And with that, I put my heart out on the table.

Isn't that what C.S. Lewis said about love, though? "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."

And yet, when you admit that vulnerability out-loud, that is when the depth of your love starts to come into view and you realize the enormity of it all.

Which leads me to a question for you: What other words have you found vital to your closest relationships (with God, friends, family or significant others) that go beyond "I love you"?

My lover is mine, and I am his.
Song of Solomon 2:16

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili Recipe: Add some spice to your autumn cuisine

It should be no surprise that I am an avid blog reader, following a variety of blogs from faith-based ones to those of my favorite authors and musicians to craft and decorating blogs to cooking ones. Yes, cooking.

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying to introduce more recipes into my burgeoning cooking capabilities--trying one or two new ones a week. So, one recipe that I recently tried came from one of my favorite cooking blogs, eat me, delicious.

Michael and I both agreed that this sweet potato and black bean chili is a keeper. Not only was it pretty easy to make, but the leftovers were just as tasty as fresh. I present it to you with our high recommendations!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
via eat me, delicious, adapted from The Clueless Vegetarian

Serves 3-4 as a meal.

1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup vegetable broth
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 28-oz (796mL) cans diced tomatoes
2 19-oz (540mL) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp crumbled dried oregano

Heat the oil in a large saucepan* or Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the onions are soft - about 5 minutes. Add the chili powder and the cumin and cook for another minute or so. Add the vgetable broth and the cubed sweet potatoes, reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the potatoes are almost tender - about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with all the juice from the can, the beans, salt, and oregano. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then let simmer until the potatoes are completely tender - about 20 minutes.

*Go for the Dutch oven if you can, unless your saucepan is really very large.

Unexpected insights from a boring Old Testament list

I've started doing my daily Bible reading by following the "Different Topic Every Day" reading plan available at http://www.heartlight.org. It's been helpful for me to do this prescribed daily reading plan because too often I'd find myself sitting with my Bible open, not knowing where to read and feeling lost as I'd skip around, from page to page, more or less just idling time. So, for the time being, this is how I'm doing my daily Bible reading. It's set up to get you through the whole Bible in a year.

Anyway, today's reading was in the ever exciting Old Testament book of Numbers, detailing all the places the Israelites went after they left Egypt on their way to the promised land, West of the Jordan River. As I was reading, I found myself start skimming, going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. They moved a lot of places. Let's skip ahead to the good stuff."

Which made me wonder: Why did God include this laundry list of locations? Why is this important? Obviously it must be, to make it in the Holy Word, so what might that be? Over and over again they moved around on this journey to their home. Perhaps this is a bird's eye view of all our lives: God is moving us from point a to b to c to d to e...

And then I noticed that as Moses listed each location, occasionally he'd offer a short description like this place was a desert, this one was without any water or it was an oasis with "12 springs and 70 palm trees." This list goes from Numbers 33:5-37, so about 32 moves. Of these, there are 4 deserts they journey through, one noted place where "there was no water for the people to drink," a sea they journey through and one oasis that they reach after making their way out of the wilderness. Most of the time, though, the places were pretty ordinary with little to say about them.

Does this sound like our lives? A few notable peaks and valleys, and a lot of seemingly unmentionable stuff in the middle? And yet, God mentions it. Verse 2 says, "At the LORD's command Moses wrote down the places where they went as they traveled. This is the list." He watched and recorded it all. And because God is the same as he ever was, he continues to watch it and record it all in our journeys even now. Every blip on the map matters to him and take us to where we're going: The promised land.

Ever wonder how God “talks” or how to “hear” him?

In the past, I’ve struggled to understand this concept of “God talking.” Like, when people say that, do they mean an out-loud kind of talking? (Because I’ve never heard a booming voice…Am I doing something wrong?)

I just finished reading "Let God Talk to You" by Becky Tirabassi last week and have to say, if you've ever wondered whether God "speaks" or how that happens, this is the best book on the subject I've ever read. (And I am an avid reader of books on prayer and such--l-o-v-e this kind of stuff.)

The thing I love about this book is that “God speaking” isn’t left as some illusive idea that leaves you guessing. She walks the reader through, step by step, what this has looked like in her life. How God--his still, small voice--will nudge you. Will plant ideas in your head. Will put people in your life who speak advice or encouragement to you. Will make a Bible verse stand out to you and resonate in your heart. Will remind you of other verses or truths.

She makes no qualms about the fact that God speaks to her daily, and through the book guides the reader through how she’s cultivated this kind of relationship with God and--the key--allowed him to speak to her. I believe this is something we all desire, to have the omnipotent, omniscient Lord speak into our lives, but few of us truly feel that it has ever happened.

As Tirabassi lays out in the book, the most important key in cultivating hearing God was a commitment she began years ago: to spend 1 hour each day with God--reading, praying and listening. (She shares in the book how she approaches this hour-long commitment and what she does during this time, which is really helpful and makes it very do-able.)

The funny thing is, that the Sunday after I read her encouragement to make that kind of daily commitment the pastor at church made a similar encouragement. In that moment, as I heard, for the second time this encouragement to pursue dedicated time alone with God, I felt that this was in fact God speaking to me. No, there was no audible voice. But the realization that this idea (one that would undoubtedly draw me closer to God) had crossed my path multiple times in just a couple days' time and that I felt it was strongly aimed toward me--that was enough to convince me. I decided to step out in faith and obedience and have been trying since to pursue an hour a day with the Lord. Some days it's easy, some days I have to force myself through it and acknowledge that it is a discipline that must be trained into desire.

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Learning the art of hospitality, one step at a time

photo by trainman74

 Last night, we had a couple friends over for dinner and to play board games (Scattergories to be exact, one of my faves).

Hosting a game night like that is something we picked up during our short-lived time in Grand Rapids, and one of my favorite things about the culture up there: They were such gracious hosts and hostesses, inviting people over for dinner and a movie, to play silly games or “just because.”

In Ohio, I had been used to hanging out with people in either of two settings: either at a party (ideally, themed) with lots of people (and lots of  food and lots of clean-up) or at Starbucks or a restaurant. The only game nights I went to were at my Aunt and Uncle’s houses, so this kind of in-between hosting was one of the most inspiring things I noticed about my new friends in Grand Rapids.

Perhaps it’s a consequence if living in a place with lots of snow that forces you indoors for a good chunk of the year, but I think a lot of it comes down to hospitality--something I truly want to work on. I tend to shy away from inviting people over because what if our place isn’t picture-perfect or I don’t really know what to cook? I often feel intimidated by it all, so I push it off.

But last night we decided to just dive into it. We went to Trader Joe’s and bought the little bags of readymade pizza dough and everyone made their own personal pan pizzas with a variety of on-hand toppings we had. They turned out delicious and then we went and played a couple rounds of Scattergories before calling it a night at 9pm.

It was a small step for me, but an encouraging one because we did it. We were able to ease our way into learning how to open our house and embrace simple hospitality, without any need for fanfare or over-the-top culinary creations. It was fun and it was simple. And there’s just something about it that makes me feel more grown-up, more like “this is my home.” I’d like  to get in the habit of doing this more often, to make hospitality more of a rhythm in this little newlywed life of ours…

P.S. To stay updated, you can have all my future blog posts sent directly to you via email or RSS feed by clicking on those links. (Let me know if they don't work.) Thanks for reading!

Why we moved to Atlanta--and left a well-paying job, in this economy

photo by chany14

I thought I’d share a little bit about the decision-making that went into our decision to move to Atlanta as newlyweds.

As most of you know, my husband and I met and dated long-distance for the first 10 months of our courtship. My husband had long-intended to spend his summer in Grand Rapids with me, but when we got engaged and decided to get married over the summer, we had a decision to make: Stay in Michigan or move to Atlanta?

While some people encouraged us to consider a long-distance marriage (seriously), we knew that was out of the question. There were benefits and drawbacks to each option:

In Michigan, I had a well-paying, full-time job with good benefits. In this economy, that is not to be taken lightly. However, it would mean having to figure out an alternative for my husband finishing up college. Ultimately, our goal is that when we start our family, he will be the breadwinner so that I can stay home and raise our kids (which is the way both of us were raised and has been my heart’s desire for raising my own family). So it was very important that we not delay him finishing up his degree and getting a job, plus he is studying to be a teacher and the teaching market is pretty nonexistent in Michigan, so we guessed that eventually we’d have to move anyway for him to find a job.

Moving to Atlanta, though, was full of question marks. My husband would be able to finish up his last year in college, uninterrupted. He has a scholarship that covers his entire tuition, which we both consider a great perk because we want to keep our debt to a minimum--even if it is “good debt.” Georgia’s teaching market is more favorable than that in Michigan or Ohio. However, it would mean me leaving my job and us not knowing what we would do for income or how we would get by.

Once he moved to Grand Rapids, we spent the first month praying about this decision until we ultimately decided to make the decision in favor of our future rather than our current circumstances: We would move to Atlanta.

Now, at the time, as I was praying through it, I didn’t feel that we had to move to Atlanta. I really felt like God impressed upon me that both decisions were good decisions and either one would be okay. However, the Atlanta decision was a greater leap of faith while staying in Grand Rapids would mostly be made out of fear of the unknown. With that on my heart, we decided in favor of moving to Atlanta.

And I have to say it was a great decision. Time after time, God has awed me with his provision and blessing during this move, from a steady (albeit impermanent) income to enough wedding money to pay for our entire ($1500+) move down here, and then some. We continue to thank God for each day he has given us, our manna that provides us with our daily bread. Though we still don’t know what awaits us or how this will all work out, we continue to trust that he will be faithful to his Word and his name: Jehovah Jireh, God our Provider.

Helpful Homemaking Tip: Keep your kitchen fresh by stashing your scraps

image from stock.xchng

When I was living in Grand Rapids, one of my co-workers invited our group of young ladies over for some appetizers. Not only did I admire the delicious dips and her gorgeous custom-made bookshelves (I think a family member had a carpentry hobby), but this one little passing comment she made when someone opened her fridge:

She keeps a bowl or coffee can in her fridge to collect any produce scraps. Once it's full, she'll bag it up and throw it away, rather than letting it sit in her kitchen trash and stink up the entire room (or luring bugs).

I thought this was a great idea, especially for those of us without a sink disposal. Michael and I have kept a large bowl tucked on our bottom shelf that has been great for collecting our scraps that we'll take out once a week or so.

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Some biblical inspiration for the "in-between" times in life: Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is one of my favorites because I can relate to it oh-so often: a psalm for “the in-between times.”
Psalm 126
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.  Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

In my Bible study in Grand Rapids this past spring, we studied Beth Moore’s “Psalms of Ascent,” and looked at this particular psalm, where the people are bemoaning their current situation in light of how God once blessed them so much . They desire those times again and beg God, “Restore our fortunes, LORD.”

And yet, the beauty of this psalm is that they hold on to hope.  In spite of their current circumstances, they still look to God for hope and help and they hold fast to faith. Look at how they talk about “sow[ing] in tears” and “go[ing] out weeping, carrying seed to sow.” As we studied this psalm, I saw how these people pressed forward in spite of their current hardships: they continued planting…because they knew that God would come along at some point and bring harvest to their actions.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says this another way: “If you worry about the weather and don’t plant seeds, you won’t harvest a crop.” We have to set out even when skies are bleak or stars aren’t aligned.

That to me is “a leap of faith.” Even if we don’t see fruit or hope immediately, we don’t give up. We continue on: asking, praying, doing and ultimately trusting in Psalm 27:13-14: “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

I often find myself in moments where I’m wishing I were already at the finish line, able to look back and smile appreciatively at everything in hindsight. Like with the unknown about my job situation or income that we’re currently facing. And yet, I know that what I do now will enable that--taking steps of faith (praying confidently and boldly, continuing to tithe rather than the urge to stockpile finances, not giving in to worry or anxiety, etc.) will bring about that harvest--when the time is right.

How I’ve learned to deal with my anxieties

Are you ever going about your day, whether it’s at home or at work, and all of a sudden you get really anxious? For no apparent reason, or sometimes for a teensy reason that you know doesn’t merit any anxiety?

Over the years, I’ve started to realize when this is happening to me, and I’ve learned to take control of the anxiety by sitting down and journaling and praying. (I’ve found that writing or typing out these prayers is most effective, because it keeps my mind from wandering and on-task.)

I sit down and begin pouring out what’s going on in my life--even the littlest things that might be upsetting me, like the fact that I need to go to the FedEx office today after dinner to pick up a package or that we have to figure out our finances with the bank. I start laying them down and acknowledging that they’re bothering me and then offering them up to God, asking him to come alongside me with them. And as I talk about it with him, as I share what’s bottling up inside of me or that I’ve been ignoring or trying to deny, slowly the anxiety melts.

It’s in these moments that I remember the wisdom of Philippians 4:6-7: “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

And it’s true--after sitting down and intentionally looking at these things fretting me and praying about them, his peace does descend and calm my heart. I think it’s his way of getting me to remember that all these things are not in my control, but they’re in his control and to remember to trust him with all of it--even the itty bitty things I don’t at first think to hand over to him.

Post-Job Interview Update: Praising God for his everyday miracles

Praise. the. Lord.

So today I had my first job interview since moving down to Atlanta. I was getting pretty nervous yesterday and last night, so when Michael and I did a drive-by of the location so that I'd know exactly how to get there in the morning,  I told him I needed a pep talk. He reminded me of verses he recalls if he gets nervous or scared and when we got home, he prayed for me.

For the rest of the evening, I felt a greater sense of peace regarding the looming deadline. I knew that I'd give it my best and that my best would have to be good enough.

So this morning, I woke up at 6:15 sharp. Got up, showered and began to blow dry my hair. Not sure if anyone else has wrestling matches with their blowdryer, brush and flat iron to get their hair looking the way they like, but typically it's a battle for me. This morning though, it blew dry almost perfectly into shape so that I barely had to straighten it. I was astounded and realized, "Wow, I didn't even pray for this, and you blessed me with a 'good hair day.'" Praise the Lord.

The outfit I decided to wear included a cute but short-sleeve button-up jacket. There was frost on the grass so I started praying that, for one day in my life, God would make me warm-blooded today during my interview. (At Baker, it was not uncommon for me to show up to meetings with my bright yellow Linus blanket or even my winter coat at times because I was always freezing.)

Also, I've been fighting off a cold and having to drink tons of fluid and fight coughing fits pretty regularly. I prayed that God would keep my throat "well watered" and that he would soothe my throat so that I didn't hack all over my interviewer and dry my nose so I didn't have to resort to a forearm wipe, mid-interview.

When all was said and done, God did not disappoint on any of my requests: I stayed comfortably warm, my throat was perfect and I didn't cough or get a runny nose at all. Can you say it with me? Praise the Lord.

And I love that, how these were the most trivial of requests in the grand scheme of things (world peace? feeding children? curing cancer? etc.), and yet they mattered to me. And rather than chastise me, God met me in that place and was generous, as a good Father is.

So I know that whatever comes next, whether it's a job or a polite "no thank you," I can trust that God was with me this step of the way and that he's guiding whatever comes next. Praise the Lord!

Prayers needed for my first job interview tomorrow morning

As many of you know, Michael and I took the leap to move down to Atlanta so that he could finish up school, knowing that I'd have to find a new job--in this economy. Yet, we felt like this was what was best for our future rather than just our "right now" and we knew that we can't underestimate God and his possibilities. So we moved.

As it turned out, my job in Grand Rapids agreed to keep me on the payroll through the end of the year as a full-time freelancer, so that they'd have ample time to find a replacement and the work on that end would feel seamless to our authors and media contacts. God provides.

We've lived down here for almost 3 months and the job market has seemed to dry up. I've found a handful of jobs to apply to and wrote my best cover letter and sent them off with hopes and dreams. Since then, I've waited.

I finally heard back from a prospective employer yesterday, and have an in-person interview tomorrow at 7:45am. God provides.

The thing is that right now I'm sick and feeling overwhelmed...and could really use your prayers as I prepare for this and put the possibilities, the anxieties, back into God's hands, trusting him to go ahead of me and behind me in this journey.

I watched the movie "Facing the Giants" a couple weeks ago with Michael and one of the messages I loved from the movie was their mantra, "We'll praise God when we win, and we'll praise God when we lose. No matter what happens, we'll praise God." That's the spirit I want to take on this journey of "what happens next?"

Thank you, dear friends!

Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid or terrified because of them,
for the LORD your God goes with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

My new approach to praying for others

photo by Hamed Saber

I try to be really careful if I tell someone, "I'll be praying for you," because unfortunately I feel like all too often that is a cliche or a cop-out and never really happens. And then it's just a lie, despite the good intentions lining it.

The thing is that I really do want to pray for people who I know are hurting or having a hard time or just trying to figure something out. But the "Lord, please be with so-and-so as she tries to figure out such-and-such" gets a little staid after awhile. I know God hears my prayers and appreciates them, but couldn't there be more to it than that kind of limp prayer?

So the conclusion I came to the other day regarding this is pretty easy. What I've decided is to find one Bible verse to pray for each person/situation on my intercessory prayer list. I will pray that verse specifically for that person. Sure I can pray more if I want to, but this makes praying for other people manageable and helps me know what to say for them that I know aligns with God's Word.

For instance, there is a high school girl that I'm close to who I will be praying Ephesians 3:17 for: "I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in her heart as she trusts in you. May her roots go down dep into the soil of your marvelous love." (That is my personalized version of that verse, substituting "her" for when Paul is speaking to the reader, etc.). For my friends who are trying to sell their house, I pray that "...your blessing be on the home of the upright." (Proverbs 3:33)

I am the first to admit that prayer isn't always as easy as it seems like it should be, so that's why I think it's good to have these kinds of "techniques" in place to help guide our hearts when we don't really feel like it. Do you have any other suggestions or any prayer requests? I'm happy to add you to my list and pick out a verse just for you! Grace and peace!

choosing a church: where you'll find us on sunday mornings

Michael and I have now lived in Atlanta for just over two months. We set out for the 40-hour voyage on August 14 and started planting our roots in our new home-sweet-home two days later.

With a few weekends away thrown into the mix, we have finally settled on the church that will become our second home-away-from-home. I've never been one to waste too much time on "church-shopping." I do believe you need to find a place that lines up with your Biblical interpretation and that has a community that you can dig into. But I wonder if too many people hold on to the window-shopping aspect too long without digging in and getting dirty. For me, that's the purpose of church--more than just Sunday mornings, but the place where you plug in and get involved, whether that's with a Bible study or small group or volunteering.

So after much prayer and consideration, we have made that decision and settled on St. Paul's, a small little church that's in stark contrast to the large churches Michael and I have been used to. Here, the pastor takes prayer requests during the church service and passes around a binder where you can write additional ones. When they were ordaining new elders this past Sunday, they called the congregation to come forward and lay hands on the men's shoulders.

I love that.

So our next leg of the journey begins...

An introduction & the formal definition of a "blesson"

“Life blessons.”

What does that even mean?

Well, I had been mulling over the idea of starting a new blog for a couple weeks (you can see my old, stagnant “lavieenvogue” one here). I wasn’t sure whether it was something I ought to seriously pursue or if it was just my mind playing tricks on me. So that afternoon, before I marched into the kitchen to grab a glass of water, I threw a post-it-note prayer up to God: “If I’m supposed to start a blog, I need you to give me the name.”

That night, for the third night in a row, I woke up at 4am and couldn’t sleep. As I lay there, my mind returned again to this idea. What would the point of another blog be? (In 2006 there were 50 million blogs, with 175,000 new ones starting up each day. Do we need any more noise or distractions?!) But I wanted to share some of the life lessons God has given me and share the ways he’s blessed me as a way to encourage others along in their faith to believe that God is real, God is good and God moves. Lessons and Blessings.

It was God who showed me how the two go hand-in-hand and “Life Blessons” was born. Immediately I began getting inspired by what this blog might hold and where it might lead. Here are some of my ideas that you (whoever you are!) can look forward to:
  • The lessons and wise insights that God has opened my eyes to, whether that’s regarding prayer, Biblical stories, confession, marriage down to the most simple things like how I spend my time and money or a must-read book
  • Testimony to some of the incredible things God is doing in my life and acknowledging the blessings he pours down and the prayers he answers.
  • There have been some key moments in my life when I have felt God leading and directing me; I’ll share some of those moments and how he’s answered prayer after prayer and delivered me to green pastures (a la my cross-country moves, meeting my now-husband, switching jobs, recovering from a broken heart, instantly healing a skin disease--you know, the everyday stuff.)
  • I’d love to share stories from other women about what God’s doing in your life or prayers he’s answered.
  • And, face it, what makes a blog a blog: The up-close and personal, sometimes ugly but ever honest, look into my life and how I’m sorting through it. (Such as the chronicles of how we’re trying to live green and healthy, DIY crafts and ideas to stretch our newlywed budget or the squirrel who has made a home in our bedroom wall--stay tuned for all that and more.)
I look forward to taking this journey with you. Here’s to “Life Blessons.”

P.S. To stay updated, you can have all my future blog posts sent directly to you via email or RSS feed by clicking on those links. Also feel free to comment or contact me! Thanks for reading!
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